Leonen tops JBC shortlist for SC

Edu Punay - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) yesterday ended its search for the associate justice that will fill the lone vacancy in the Supreme Court (SC) left by the promotion of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno last August.

In a closed-door meeting, members of the council voted and came up with a shortlist of seven nominees from where President Aquino will pick the 172nd justice of the high court.

Chief government peace negotiator and former University of the Philippines law dean Marvic Leonen topped the list after getting the approval of seven of the eight members of the JBC tasked to vet nominees to posts in the judiciary and Office of the Ombudsman.

Three others – former energy secretary Raphael Lotilla, Court of Appeals (CA) presiding Justice Andres Reyes Jr. and Justice Rosmari Carandang – also got seven votes.

CA Justices Jose Reyes Jr. and Noel Tijam placed second with six votes each, while De La Salle University law dean Jose Manuel Diokno had five votes.

The shortlist, culled from 15 nominees, was immediately submitted to Malacañang.

President Aquino has until Nov. 22 to make the appointment.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, ex-officio member of the council, told reporters that they decided to include in the shortlist candidates who got at least five votes.

De Lima revealed the JBC used the old criteria in selecting the final nominees pending approval of the proposed point system, which would disqualify bets who would not meet the physical and mental fitness standards.

“The point system is still under study, so it was not applied yet. Each of us went over the profiles, the credentials and, of course, the results of the interview. It’s an overall evaluation of the fitness and qualifications of each nominee,” she explained.

De Lima gave assurance the seven in the shortlist had met all the requirements of the JBC, including disclosure of assets.

She said it was “a good list” and their council is “confident that the President will be able to make a choice out of the seven.”

It was earlier reported that all 15 candidates had submitted their respective statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) and waiver for disclosure of bank assets.

This new requirement was adopted by the council during their selection process for the chief justice post last June as additional test of the integrity and fitness of nominees following the ouster of former chief justice Renato Corona last May due to undeclared assets.

Sereno chairs the JBC.

Other members who took part in the deliberations were De Lima, Senate justice committee chair and Sen. Francis Escudero, House justice committee chair and Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., Milagros Fernan-Cayosa from the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Jose Mejia from academe, retired SC justice Regino Hermosisima from retired justices and retired CA justice Aurora Lagman from the private sector.

The Constitution requires an SC justice to be a natural-born citizen, at least 40 years old, have 15 years or more experience as a judge of a lower court or engaged in the practice of law in the Philippines.

A more crucial qualification is that a justice “must be a person of proven competence, integrity, probity, and independence.”

Leonen is reportedly a top contender for the SC vacancy.

Malacañang earlier said President Aquino has not decided whether to keep him in the peace panel or appoint him to the SC.

During his public interview last Oct. 25, Leonen assured the council that his acceptance of nomination to the SC would not jeopardize the success of government’s framework agreement with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), saying other members of the panel are equally capable to continue what they had started.

Leonen vowed to be independent from the executive if appointed to the high court, considering his being a member of President Aquino’s team.

Leonen said he does not have any political attachment with the President since he did not campaign for him in the 2010 polls.

He was only recruited to head the peace panel because of his known advocacies.

He also believed that his strong advocacies on issues would enable him to “bring in balance of thinking in the court.”

Leonen believes justices of the high court are broadminded enough to understand that his strong stance in the plagiarism charge against Justice Mariano del Castillo was called for by his role then as dean of the UP College of Law.

While supporting the “dignified silence” policy of Sereno, Leonen believes the court “should be more than willing to be criticized by the academia and public.”

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